Young and Credible?

I have had a couple of conversations lately about the struggle to achieve credibility in some circles if you happen to be young and female.


I remember myself being part of a church leadership team, and raising an issue over and over for about 6 months. Then one day a young man raised the same issue, and it was dealt with on the spot. My jaw had to be pretty much scraped off the floor with my astonishment.


It's almost like if you raise an issue tactfully and sensitively, it can be completely overlooked when you are a young woman. On the other hand, if you are a young woman and raise an issue forcefully, you face a different but also problematic issue. I quote below from a young articulate woman (with permission, from another blog) who has observed a double standard on voicing opinions:


'I think that I live in a world where it's ok for young men to have opinions, to be articulate, and to be interested in teasing out issues, while I and other young women with similar attributes are seen as "exhausting", "nit-picking", "opinionated", "competitive" etc. This isn't just something that happens on blogs - I've experienced it in church meetings far more often. I've said things and been told that I'm "nit-picking" (or similar), and then I've heard young men use the same arguments, and even the same vocabulary, and be praised for being "wise". Am I being paranoid? Perhaps - but I know that I have a few older male friends who have witnessed these accusations being thrown at me, and their perception of what occurred, and the gendered aspects of it, is identical to mine.'


It seems to me if you're too gentle in advancing opinions, it's easy to be dismissed or overlooked entirely… it's like you are not heard at all. On the other hand, if you argue an opinion with some passion, you can be viewed in quite  negative terms. Is this a no-win situation? Are times changing? Is the church changing? Do you just have to wait until you're older before you will be taken seriously? What are your experiences?


Anonymous said…
I've worked with all men for the last 15years. I began the profession I'm in at the age of 24years old, standing under 5 feet tall, with no experience. As I was promoted quickly the men were threatened. One of them was my husband because I began making more money them him.

What I have noticed in every area of my life is that SIZE & POSITION do matter in our society. Ever have a child come up with an idea or rebuke you because they could see right through you? It makes you feel naked and laid bare. I believe it's the threat we all feel since the garden.

Pride the promotion of self, Fear the protection of self, edge God out and become the object of our worship. I learned this in a break out session once, and realized this must have been what happened in the garden. It leads to self-sufficiency.

My husband told me that I am stronger than most men he knows. Many times I have to be careful because if there is not a proper amount of balance some of the men in my life are afraid of me. On the flip side if I do not use my voice for Truth there is a patronizing or ignoring that drives me nuts. Finding that balance and teaching men how to work communicate and listen is the freedom Christ has given us. I call myself metro-girl because I scrub alot of toilets. I feel many times that is what it means for me to minister to the men in my life. There is not alot of glory in it, but we all know the pride we can take in a clean house. Unnoticed but a freedom that only Christ can give us when we truley remain humble. I use to either beat men up or run from them, now I love teaching them. Seeing the men in my life become real men of God has been wonderful. They pat me on the head and pull my ponytail but I know in my heart how far we have come.

The guys get promoted and credited with ideas, I feel like I'm always getting dumped on. But how awesome the lives that I have seen changed when others are watching how I deal with it.

AbiSomeone said…
Amazing perception, Penney...I resonate with much of your circumstance. Bless you for your wisdom and humility--you go, girl! is truly exasperating to be "transparent" in this way...but I really don't think it is as related to age as gender. I don't see that age brings the kind of respect it used to--for men or women! And that is not a good thing, in my opinion. (Now, that doesn't mean we should not also respect young people...or that age equals wisdom. Wisdom should always be honored in the young and in the old--regardless of gender.)
Janet Woodlock said…
Wow Penney... I need to sit at your feet on this one!

Cleaning toilets is the 21st century version of footwashing... and you are following the example of our Lord and Master in this respect.

This is a bit of an aside... but I've heard of women in ministry who find the gender battle so tough in some places they end up apparently embittered. I'd rather clean toilets demonstrating the aroma of Christ in my attitude, than preach in a cathedral with the stench of bitterness or cynicism about me.

Speaking the truth in love... fighting for justice yet walking humbly with my God... this is all tough stuff to balance.

Peggy... I personally feel it's a bit easier to be "heard" now I'm older (44)... but it may only be because I work in a different context. Or because I've gotten better at speaking in the "male dialect".
Anonymous said…
Thank you for the hearty laugh! I like that ...Cleaning toilets is the 21st century version of footwashing...

Jesus really did have a sense of humor!

Janet Woodlock said…
I should add that my "aside" about women in ministry finding it tough and burning out is in the context of my "Moses moments" (I had one the other night... a "Lord, I can't do it... send someone else"!)

ie... this is one of my many feeble excuses why I think God calling me to ministry is a really bad idea.
Anonymous said…
Those Moses moments are a testing and painful when you go through them. But that is what is forming you. You don't seem like a woman who stays their long. You also probablly already know that. Leadership for Moses was a lonely place especially in the beginning. I've heard that Mary was witness to the resurrection because she was an unlikely witness, being a woman. I think it is also because she was a woman who knew spiritual battle having once been possessed herself.

I would say that age/gender is significant in a male dominated environment. When I was 21 years old my boss told me, (even though I was already training my managers)that I would not be promoted because I was to small, young, and female. He said a customer would not feel satisfied bringing their complaint to me. Yet, there were managers who were male and the same age as me. Churches or ministries are made up of men just like this. Sometimes it makes me angry and I want to kick them right in the shin. But than I would be acting and justifying their perception.

AbiSomeone said…

I agree that gender is important in male dominated societies...and age is important mostly among the males. But a young male trumps an older female too much of the time.

And Janet, that is really part and parcel to the difference of our realities. I have seen and heard too many bitter women grinding axes and heard too many patronizing men writing them off as emotionally unstable...both in industry and the church.
Janet Woodlock said…
Wow Penney... your boss's behaviour would be illegal where I live (thanks to the sex discrimination act). I cannot imagine anyone being that blatant here simply out of fear of a hefty fine! Though a boss with those kinds of attitudes might overlook your abilities and provide lame excuses thinking they'd get away with it.

I think it is murkier ground in the church, which can escape some of the legal responsibilities one has as an employer (and church organisations can get some exemptions... eg Catholics and male priests!).

I do think however that even subtle social factors can make a big difference in the way people behave.

I am particularly interested in emerging leaders, and what helps to develop and release emerging leaders. I have observed that there are SOME church cultures (or organisational cultures) that tend to produce "swagloads" of young leaders... and some churches that lose young people en masse. There must be more to this than the sovereign hand of God at work in individuals... there must be some cultural factors that tend to promote leadership and discipleship. I'm sure mentoring and healthy examples / role models are part of this.

And this is where developing emerging women in leadership can hit a big obstacle in my opinion... paupacy of female role models in church leadership, failure to recognise leadership potential and provide experiences that will grow an emerging leader (leadership is not recognised in "female form"), and subtle forms of discrimination that lead to self-doubt. ("No one has taken my idea seriously... maybe it was a dumb idea... maybe my ideas are dumb").

This is particularly true for the kinds of sensitive souls who make the BEST pastoral carers... they are often highly attuned to the feelings of others and are reluctant to rock the boat lest they upset anyone. Gentle souls seem most prone to self-doubt too.

As a matter of interest, does anyone know of research that has been done about cultural factors that tend to promote healthy leadership? I know Robert Clinton has looked at leadership development of individuals... I wonder if this has been done for church cultures?

Finally abisomone... wouldn't it be nice if there was no sexism in the first place? Then women wouldn't get burnt out and disillusioned from the struggle, and men wouldn't patronise...

Oh well, things are changing... we have to look back 50 years to realise just how much things have already moved.
revivalist said…
I am a 20-something woman who is unmarried and works for the church as [dramatic pause] a secretary. So my odds are not good in any of those categories!
I have had male bosses in this environment who were lovely and would never have thought that my being a woman had any impact on what I could do. I've also had the other kind - in its most subtle and frustratingly unameable form.
I don't think I could separate which discrimination I've felt more than the others. I know some has been sexism and not ageism. But I think I have actually sturggled more with the ageism than sexism. My mum's struggles with sexism in her workplaces gave me a headsup on what to expect so I at least wasn't terribly surprised. But the ageism is something I didn't expect. So much of our society is 'younger is better' that I was surprised by the opposite attitude.
My biggest struggle is that I'm a pragmatic person and so just simply truly don't understand how someone could really think that my sex/age/hair colour/bra size/ice cream flavour preference makes me any less valuable or worth hearing. Different I'm fine with, less valuable I'm not.
Janet Woodlock said…
Mmmm... maybe I need to write a reflection on dealing with old sexist bosses and crusty old blokey church boards...

That's probably way too many adjectives in a row.

Popular posts from this blog

Study at Manchild!

Rebranding Hierarchy

The World According to Complementarians